Earlier this week, we asked readers to write in telling us if they think unconditional love actually kills desire. Many responded. We’re publishing some of those responses Friday.
Last year I watched the film Take This Waltz by myself and found it incredibly sad and unsettling. One of its central themes is the question of unconditional love versus lust. In the end, lust wins out and then is revealed to have its own shortcomings. Part of what troubled me was seeing the on-screen married couple as an exaggerated version of my own marriage. There’s a lot of friendship in their relationship, as in ours, and they’re very playful with each other, but in a way that often times takes on more sibling than lover characteristics.
I was uncomfortable with the two options being pitted against each other so starkly because it’s too depressing to see them as natural enemies. Everyone wants both, so I’d really rather not believe that we’re all doomed to lives where we’re choosing which kind of emptiness we’d rather experience, as the central character in the movie discovered she’d done. It may be wishful thinking and a desire to avoid that sort of fatalist thinking that makes me believe that people can have both.
The problem with unconditional love, as I see it in my own life, is that it makes us lazy. My husband no longer holds his farts in my presence, and I’ve been known to sport some very unflattering sweatpants around the house in winter. Neither of these things make it any easier for us to regard each other as lustworthy sexual objects. It’s as if we’ve both been hired to a job that we can’t be fired from, so our work has gotten sloppy. As far as I can tell, this happens to almost everyone. Or at least the concept is so pervasive (appearing as a central theme in pretty much every couple-based sitcom I can think of) as to be considered a foregone conclusion.
Of course, there is an upside. When I was puking all night with food poisoning, I didn’t have to worry about it being extremely unsexy or about how much of a total mess I looked. It wasn’t lust that meant my husband would run to 7-Eleven at any hour for ginger ale and stay by my side in the emergency room until noon the next day with no sleep. As terrible as that experience was, it made us feel even closer to each other because it was an affirmation of our unconditional love.
But marathon vomiting wasn’t a conscious choice that I had made. In the instances where we are making active decisions, I think we have to take responsibility for the dimming or death of lust if we choose the lazy option. Knowing and appreciating that your partner has unconditional love for you doesn’t necessarily mean abusing that knowledge. Keep a lacy teddy in the drawer next to the ratty sweats. Don’t carpet bomb the room your wife is reading in, and try to smell nice, generally. Refuse the idea that being completely accepted by someone means you don’t have to try anymore, that a life of unconditional love means living without lust. It’s such a (hopefully untrue) bummer.
Previously in this series: